- Duchess of Fantasy (there’s a True Story…), writer of literary fantasy and science fiction, creator of worlds.
Readers, let’s give a good, hearty welcome to this week’s guest!
Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon.
She is a novelist, anthologist, and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with two obligatory writer’s cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination.
Alma, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with the boring stuff, but I know what readers REALLY want to know.
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
Well, it wouldn’t be a pet, it would be a companion – a wolf. I am absolutely ridiculously devoted to wolves, I love them, and I have actually been privileged to have been able to meet some in real life – and have even been kissed by one (wolf tongues are very large and very comprehensively cover one’s entire face and I wasn’t expecting that particular moment…) My wolf would go everywhere with me. It would be the support of my soul.
What a lovely choice!
What do you write? And how did you get started?
I write pretty much everything – mostly various subgenres of fantasy but I’ve also written science fiction, more literary/contemporary stuff, as well as non-fiction (and I also write things like blog essays and things like that, and talk a lot about books and writing on my Patreon, for instance)
How did I get started? I don’t know. I was always doing it. I was telling stories when I was barely more than a toddler. Words have always been in my blood and this isn’t something I DO, it’s something I AM. Writing is in my DNA.
Entirely my sort of writer! I think I must aspire to be you when I get published.
What do you like to read?
Again, pretty much everything – but I’m particularly drawn to well-written fantasy (think Guy Gavriel Kay, for instance). But since I live in a house that has more than 6000 books in it I think that answers your question – those books are an esoteric collection of fiction and non-fiction, all kinds of authors, all kinds of subjects, at least three different languages.
I think this reading addiction is a necessary prerequisite to being a writer of any ability – you have to osmose the words into you before you can do your own magic with them, and being a lifelong reader is essential to that particular alchemical transformation…
What a lovely collection!
What’s one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you?
That it all has to be “action”
No, it does not. I am an aficionado for slow books, the ones that take time to collect momentum (but pack a gut punch when they do). I look at books like a river. A certain amount has to flow by before it gets interesting. It CAN’T all just gush out at the source like a geyser. Chases have their place but I resent the implication that a book without a chase in it is somehow less “entertaining”.
So true! Too often writers think that tension and stakes need action. I can only sit on the edge of my seat for so long, people. I still, to this day, complain about a book I read 4 years ago that was just one giant chase scene.
What’s one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands?
You have to know the rules before you can break them.
Know what the rules are.. then break them in a way that brands the story as uniquely YOURS. But first, you have to know and respect the rules. Riding roughshod over everything is not what I mean – you have to show me that you know what you are doing, and why. There is nothing more amazing than an elegant rule breaker who is convincing enough to persuade me that the rule had to be broken…
Excellent points! You can break any rule — if you do it well enough. But, the best way to know how to do it well is to understand the rule and why it’s there.
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
With over 20 published books, and as editor of numerous anthologies, here is a small selection of the offerings from the Duchess of Fantasy.
Fractured Fairy Tales
Welcome to the land where tales are told. There is a path unfolding in front of you, paved with words, leading into secret places -the dangerous, the remembered, the familiar, the unknown.
Here you will find witches and princesses, monsters and familiars, coins made of silver and swords made of shadow, lost girls and travelling troubadours, promises made and broken, loss and laughter. The book you are holding is a key to the gate of that realm.
Open the door.
The Secrets of Jin-Shei
A group of women, the jin-shei sisterhood, form a uniquely powerful circle that transcends class and social custom. They are bound together by a declaration of loyalty that transcends all other vows, even those with the gods, by their own secret language, passed from mother to daughter, by the knowledge that some of them will have to pay the ultimate sacrifice to enable others to fulfill their destiny.
The sisterhood we meet run from the Emperor’s sister to the street-beggar, from the trainee warrior in the Emperor’s Guard to the apprentice healer, from the artist to the traveller-girl, herself an illegitimate daughter of an emperor and seen as a threat to the throne. And as one of them becomes Dragon Empress, her determination to hold power against the sages of the temple, against the marauding forces from other kingdoms, drags the sisterhood into a dangerous world of court intrigue, plot and counterplot, and brings them into conflict with each other from which only the one who remains true to all the vows she made at the very beginning to the dying Princess Empress can rescue them.
An amazing and unusual book, based on some historical fact, full of drama, adventure and conflict like a Shakespearean history play, it’s a novel about kinship and a society of women, of mysticism, jealousy, fate, destiny, all set in the wonderful, swirling background of Syai, a fantasy kingdom inspired by Imperial China.
The Second Star
The Parada had been lost for almost two hundred years before they recovered the ship, drifting in stygian interstellar darkness, and brought her home again.
But that was not the miracle.
The miracle was that the crew was still alive.
That was also the problem.
Six crew members went out on the Parada, Earth’s first starship. All contact was lost, and the ship vanished for almost two centuries. When the Parada’s successor found the drifting ship and somehow managed to bring it home, the six crew members were not only still alive but barely older, due to the time dilation effects of near-FTL travel. Their return was a miracle – but it could not be revealed to the waiting world. The problem was, six individuals went out to the stars. More than seventy fractured personalities came back.
Psychologist Stella Froud and Jesuit Father Philip Carter were recruited as part of the team assembled to investigate the mystery, and to try and help the Parada’s crew understand their condition and possibly reverse it. What they discovered was a deepening mystery, and very soon they found themselves forced to take sides in a conflict that nobody could have possibly predicted. Their world would never be the same again.
When a human couple unwisely promised their firstborn to two different witches, the father to a modern city witch Shula, the mother to a forest witch by the name of Ethelreda, things quickly got complicated.
When an arbitrator ruled that the pair of witches had to raise the child together, living six months in the city and six in the country, the arrangement was intolerable to both.